State promises quicker approval for flying fox 'dispersal' measures

UP and down the east coast of Australia, the four species of bats known as flying foxes have shown what a recent federal parliamentary report called “a growing propensity to roost in urban areas”.

Flying fox roosting. Picture: Dean Sewell

Flying fox roosting. Picture: Dean Sewell

Despite their urban ubiquity, the overall flying fox populations are still believed to be in slow decline, even with state and federal environmental protection. The NSW and Queensland governments allow limited killing of flying foxes to counter crop damage, but regulations have been tightened in both states in recent years.

For urban or semi-urban residential dwellers wanting to shift permanent camps of flying foxes, lethal options have long been off the table. Responsibility often falls to local councils, who work out a plan of management using either passive or active dispersal, or an escalating mixture of the two. Passive dispersal involves cutting down trees – “habitat alteration”, to quote the federal report – or using water sprinklers or nets to deter bats from roosting.

Active dispersal means light, noise, smoke or some other device to drive the bats from their location, but as the federal report observes, none of these methods are guaranteed to work. The frustration of those having to live near large flying fox colonies is easily understood. At present, local councils or other public land managers need a licence before trying to disperse bat colonies, but the NSW government is proposing to do away with this requirement under a new code of practice, on display in draft form until May 25.

Instead, the government is proposing that the council “notify the environmental agency head in writing at least five days before” its intended action. The draft code says the agency head “may” write back within three days, giving directions as to what actions are allowed, and what are not. This is considerably faster than the present scheme, which gives the government 20 days to respond to routine requests, and 40 days if active methods are to be used to disperse a colony. 

But strict limits remain. “Disturbance actions” are only allowed for 2.5 hours in every 12, and then “preferably at or before sunrise or sunset”. They can only run for six days before a break of at least one day, and must cease altogether if more than half of the bats remain after seven days of disturbance. With this level of protection, it would hardly surprise if bat-bothered residents believed that they came off second-best.

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